Sunday, October 12, 2014

Boka revisited

A new chef in an established restaurant can make an enormous difference.  Having said that though, the change that Boka underwent after hiring Chef Lee Wolen was positively transformational.  Chef Wolen came from The Lobby in Chicago, which he had raised to a Michelin Star, but he has a very impressive CV as well with stints at Moto, Butter, the world famous El Bulli, and Eleven Madison Park.  He was coming to Boka, which already had a Michelin Star.  I imagine that they wanted, at least to maintain that.  I came for dinner a few years ago and really enjoyed my dinner and the design of the place.  I had sat in the "Sail Room" that reminded me of an old corset and I had a very good dinner that included Scallops, Pork Belly, and an Indian dessert similar to Ice Cream.  The last time I came, I had a little trouble finding the entrance because it was inside a courtyard.  The entrance is in the same place, but as I knew where to look and there was still daylight when I arrived, I didn't have a problem finding it.  The host station is still in the same place inside the door, but the wall behind it was now decorated/covered with antique door locks.  I like the antique/vintage look so it played to my sensibilities well.  I was seated in a different room than I was the last time I was here and I didn't notice this room so I am uncertain what was there before, but I do know that there was a very dramatic change made because there has been much comment made about it.  The room is next to the hot station and I could see from where I was seated in a large round white leather booth who was coming and going.  The room used black and white tiles of four different designs to make a larger dramatic design.  The ceiling was a large skylight with an old design.  The wall next to me was  off-white and behind me was painted in a semi-graffiti style, "Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken - Oscar Wilde."  I liked it and it made me smile, but the talk of this room is the "Living Wall".  The wall opposite my booth was covered in plant life.  Most of it was fairly short, but there were several plants scattered on the wall that had longer leaves/branches/stems.  Also on the wall among the plant life were about 15 portraits of animals in old-style formal wear.  There were dogs, cats, monkeys, various birds, a puma, and a squirrel, who looked very serious and stern.  It was both very dramatic and whimsical and I really liked it.  As far as the other rooms were concerned, the bar was in the same location and while there appeared to be some changes, they didn't appear to be that dramatic.  The "Sail Room" has had the sail removed and with the wooden beams in the wall and the ceiling, it now has a lodge-like appearance.  The wine list at Boka is still fairly impressive, although they seem to cut down somewhat on the number of cocktails.  I was, however, able to find a cocktail to satisfy my tastes.  It was called a Cold Shoulder #2 and had Bombay Dry Gin, Averna, Spiced Pear, Lemon, and Egg White.  I am generally not a fan of pears, but the flavor moderated both the sour from the lemon and the herbal flavor from the gin.  The egg white also gave it a nice creamy head.
My dinner started with an Amuse Bouche.  I was brought a shot glass-sized portion of Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Ras Al Hanout (a north African spice blend that literally means "head of the shop" and frequently includes cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chili peppers, coriander, cumin, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek, and turmeric), and Blackberry Molasses.  It was very creamy with small bits of cauliflower, had a slight curry flavor and slightly sweet finish from the molasses. 
The food menu was divided into Cold,  Hot, and Entrees (with a separate Dessert list).  There was a lot on the menu that really interested me so I had trouble deciding and relied on the waiter to help me make my decisions.  I started out with the Heirloom Carrots which were served with Amaranth (a plant used as a grain by the Aztecs), Pistachios, Smoked Goat Cheese, and a round fruit that felt and tasted like a Date.  The carrots were served both thin slices and as the stems.  They were tender and very flavorful and everything went together very well.  There were many flavors and textures, I really enjoyed it, and I had much anticipation for the rest of the meal.
My bread plate arrived after this.  I received two rolls, A Ciabatta Bread with Dates and Pecans, and a Roll with Olives and Sea Salt, and a dollop of Housemade Butter.  The bread was very crusty with a very soft interior like the best baguettes.  They were also very tasty.  The butter was lightly salted and very soft.  It would have been very easy to use all of the butter on the rolls, because it was good and soft, but I also wanted to taste the very good bread so I went light on the butter and enjoyed both.  
For my Hot Appetizer, I went with the Salt Cod Ravioli which was served with Corn, Arugula, and Radishes and had a Corn Form.  I liked the corn, radishes, and, and arugula, and the ravioli was also very good once I found it.  Cod has a relatively neutral flavor, although salting it does intensify the flavor that is there.  The ravioli was tender and had a good salt cod flavor.   I was really not a fan of the foam, though.  There are places that foam works, I just do not think it worked here.
At The Lobby, one of the dishes that was renowned was the Chicken.  He brought this to Boka and I did think about getting it, but I ended up getting the Beef Short Ribs.  It was served with Grilled Lettuce, Shiitake and other Mushrooms, with Corned Tongue.  This was really good and while I am still wondering about the Chicken, I really liked it.  The short rib was very tender and the lettuce and mushrooms went well with it.  The tongue was tender and was mixed in with the mushrooms.  It added an additional meaty flavor to the dish.
For dessert, I thought I was going to go with a relatively standard Chocolate Cake until the dessert called Coffee and Mascarpone was described to me.  It contained Coffee Gelato, Honey Cake, Mascarpone Gelato, Whipped Cream, Gingerbread, and Elderflowers.  It was a great looking dish and the it tasted at least as well as it looked.  Coffee is a common after dinner drink.  This was essentially a deconstructed coffee drink.
I don't see it often, but some fine dining restaurants will offer petit fours at the end of the meal.  Boka was one of these restaurants and they brought me a Housemade Thin Mint.  It was light, it was sweet, and it was a great finish to a great meal.  There have been a lot of changes to the restaurant, but they have all been good changes.  I really enjoyed my meal and would happily return.       

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